Rock Records: Roger Caillois

Caillois holding stoneRoger Caillois’s mineral collection and writings on stone comprise a rich library of ‘rock records,’ a term used here to mean not only the geologic rock record, but also records of encounters with stone broadly understood. Caillois bequeathed his renowned collection to the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. The collection, featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale, can be seen at the galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie. In his three books on stones, Caillois presents fascinating speculative ruminations on geologic processes and specimens, in the service of a transdisciplinary philosophical project. Caillois espoused a “mystical materialism” that grounded his pursuit of a “diagonal science,” a hermetic reading of the cosmos as composed of hieroglyphic signs, in which “stone… speaks… the most convincing language in the universe.”

Rock Records coverCaillois figures prominently in Rock Records, a special issue of the French theory and literature journal SubStance that includes essays in ecophilosophy and speculative geomedia, and a collection of viewing stones presented by leading connoisseurs. The issue features an excerpt from Caillois’s Pierres réfléchies (1975)–the last, and least cited, of his books on stones–published for the first time in English. The print essay is complemented by an online exhibit that presents photos of particular specimens of the mineral collection accompanied by Caillois’s speculations about them from The Writing of Stones (1969).

In Rock Records, Caillois’s stone writings are taken up by ecotheorist Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, who perceptively points out that while Caillois discovers in stones a form of cosmic art–thereby liberating art from an anthropomorphic mooring–he simultaneously depicts rock as an inert medium, a “durable recording device” of universal energies and aesthetics. Paul Prudence, a theorist and practitioner of procedural art, begins by pointing out that Caillois, as a pareidoliac interpreting patterns in stone, figures his speculations in terms of the “internalized database of stored images” available to him at the time. He then offers a “post-digital” treatment of Caillois’s writings, seeing them in terms of how they anticipate and/or are changed by viewing them in relation to algorithmic images (fractals, etc), and concludes that an aesthetics of simulation ultimately opens onto a “cybernetics of geology.” Paul A. Harris finds in Caillois’s characterization of stone contemplation as “mental inebriation” and “spiritual exercise” an analogue for his “stoned thinking” grounded in meditative rock gardening practices.

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Igneous Ligneous Inosculation: Migmatite

“Migmatite,” meaning “mixed rock,” is a word coined in 1907 by Jakob Johannes Sederholm, for rocks having both igneous and metamorphic properties. Pierre Jardin stumbled on the term on a plaque for a large sinuous-striped, grey and white boulder named “Bob’s Rock” outside the Grassy Hollow Visitors Center on the marvelous Angeles Crest Highway near Wrightwood, California.

migmatite swirls
migmatite sample, Wrightwood

As Evelyn Mervine succinctly explains: “Metamorphic rocks are rocks which deform at very high pressures and temperatures and which may recrystallize but which have not formed through melting. Igneous rocks, on the other hand, are rocks which form by cooling from completely molten material.  Migmatites are hybrid rocks: the dark layers (most often composed of biotite and amphibole) experienced metamorphic changes, but did not melt. The light layers (most often granitic in composition; as a reminder, granite consists of the minerals quartz, feldspar, and muscovite), on the other hand, crystallized from partial melts of the precursor rock.”

Pierre Jardin collected pieces of migmatite from an outcropping near Wrightwood. Their heterogeneous composition and pytgmatic foldings make them a natural fit for mixing rocks and wood in compositions Jardin calls “Igneous Ligneous Inosculations” (stones kissing stumps, loosely translated). The undulating folds of the migmatite rock rhyme visually with the sinuous lines of the wood, and the two forms fit neatly, creating nice negative spaces.

migmatite on stump

 

 

Charles Jencks’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation in March

One only begins to know a garden by visiting it at different times of year. Alistair Clark, the head gardener and long-time collaborator in Charles Jencks’s great land art projects, told me that he thinks requests to film at Cosmic Speculation should be met with a condition: film the exact same itinerary at all four seasons, because it is a completely different place as light, vegetation, and mood change.

Having seen the garden in the glories of June sunlight and rains, it was a revelation to see it stark in March bareness. Sightlines are clearer, the stand of poplars parallel to the train track stands out, and the landforms in early morning frost and low sun are far more dramatic in their dynamic contours (above). Less lush leafing lets the eye linger over long views, like this beautiful outlook over the DNA Garden with its stunning undulating walls (below).DNA garden and undulating walls copy

 

 

Petriverse earns “Geotour de Force” designation

Geotour de forceThe Petriverse has been designated a “Geotour de Force” by Golden State GeoTours.  The rare honor recognizes particularly powerful lithic locations in California, where geophysical energies and aesthetic splendor combine to attract rockhounds and stone lovers.  Canonical sites include Skull Rock in Joshua Tree, Devils Postpile, and Half Dome in Yosemite.  “We felt that The Petriverse displays a unique geophilic fervor, in its commitment to creating strangely attractive stone displays and attractively strange rock messages,” GSGT President Jon Mewer stated.  A dewy-eyed Pierre Jardin called it “a truly unexpected honor,” acknowledging that his humble suburban rock garden cannot compare with large-scale formations on the club’s list.  “While those places are authentic natural wonders, the Petriverse is, naturally, about making you wonder,” Jardin concluded enigmatically.

GHOSTONES Haunt Petriverse

The Petriverse dressed up for Halloween this year: standing megaliths donned white webwork and became “ghostones ,” which, surrounding a dolphin skull, composed a spooky display, especially at night.

Pierre Jardin considered the covering a poor-man’s mock-up of Christo wrapping trees.  The stones took on an ethereal beauty, lightening into slightly uncanny presences, almost afloat.

Pierre wondered how the stones felt in their garb: cheapened? cloistered and cobwebbed? or maybe they were happy being seen as ghosts, their spirits appearing to those passersby who don’t realize that stones are animate matter of the living earth….

Cosmic Collisions

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The unprecedented observations of two neutron stars merging reported this week mark a new level of insight into cosmic materials, collisions, and processes.  The event was recorded by both the detection of gravity waves warping space-time (as predicted in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity) and light emissions at different wavelengths, allowing scientists a clear view into the physics of extremely dense materials (thousands or millions of tons per cubic centimeter) and processes that yield rare dense matter like gold).  Peering into an event occurring 130 million light years away stretches humanity’s ability to sense and explore the cosmos–it is thrilling to think of how big our eyes and ears are becoming!

Science by itself makes observations in conjunction with theories, but it doesn’t interpret, explain, or make the knowledge speak to us on deeper levels. One function of art is to help us not only think about but feel, sense, understand, comprehend, through our senses, the implications of scientific insights.  These observations brought to mind two very relevant collaborations between artists and cosmologists.

When I watched a BBC video of the sound of the neutron stars merging, I thought of Gérard Grisey‘s composition Le Noir de l’Etoile, and his collaboration with cosmologist Jean-Pierre Luminet (also a wonderful writer and poet). Grisey heard a recording of emissions from pulsars, and wrote an hour-long work for 6 percussionists; in performance, they ring the audience, and the pulsar sounds that play are the “guest stars” of the evening.  You can view the original performance here.  Grisey timed performances to coincide with the passage of pulsars in the sky, so that the music was literally tuned to cosmic rhythms.  In his liner notes for the CD, Grisey writes, “When music succeeds in conjuring up time, it finds itself with a veritable shamanic power, that of connecting us to the forces around us,” and compares timing performances with pulsar emissions to solar or lunar rites of past civilizations.  Luminet’s liner notes assert that “Grisey’s music is indeed in the image of the stars: in turns rhythmic, violent, haunting, spluttering, incessantly starting over again…. The universe is not necessarily comfortable, nor is today’s music.  But this is our universe, our music.”

The neutron star merger also brought to mind “Cosmic Collisions,” a recent installation at Charles Jencks‘s stunning artland Crawick Multiverse.  Jencks’s ambitious vision is that “A garden should not only present [a] worldview or cosmology but also heighten our relationship to it, through the senses” (including the sense of humor) (The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, 5).

 

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Jencks thinks on cosmic timescales, imagining collisions between not only stars but galaxies.  In the video on the Multiverse homepage, he describes the landforms representing our galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy, and reminds us that they will collide, pass through one another, and fold together in an amazing “dance.”

 

I visited the Multiverse shortly before the Cosmic Collisions installation opened, and had the pleasure of watching Jencks working at the site with Alistair Clark, who is the head gardener of Jencks’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and an amazing gardener, stone smith, and land artist in his own right.  Using shards he chipped from the large rock above, I left him a message in stone, along with a note explaining that it had been “a plus” to meet him and see his “A+” level workmanship.

A+ for Alistair

 

Adrift in a drift in time (STE 1O/13)

Gary Haven Smith‘s beautiful granite sculptures, and many of the powerful works in the Ogunquit Museum‘s outdoor sculpture garden, made Pierre Jardin want to DO something with stones.  Below the museum grounds, he found a small pebble beach in a cove that featured a fantastic rock arch formation (below house), a suitable setting for a site-specific composition.

ogunquit log and stone formationA long driftwood log, distinctly colored and textured, provided a handy base for a rock-work. The speckled rhyolite cobbles that provided splotches of red and brown among the predominant grey and black in the shingle immediately stood out as suggestive complements for the wood.

Log stonesJardin spent an hour gathering similar-sized stones and arranging them along the log, and then photographed them, thinking of reproducing–rather, iterating–the work in a collage.

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Collecting rocks and collating stones is a contemplative pastime that sets Pierre Jardin adrift in time in different senses: in quotidian time, he is off the clock, unaware of minutes and hours passing; in conceptual time, he imaginatively traverses the timescales of the materials he is working with.  What is the history of the tree whose trunk he is working with?  How old was it when it fell into the sea?  What was the driftwood’s itinerary–did it drift about for days, weeks, months, before beaching here?

The temporal drift of the rhyolite cobbles unfolds on a much more nebulous geologic timescale.  Clarence Ellis’s marvelous The Pebbles on the Beach (1954) remains unsurpassed in its account of the life of a pebble:

“Firstly we must always bear in mind that a pebble is a transient thing. It is in the half-way stage of a long existence.  Beginning as a fragment of rock, which itself is millions of years old, it ends its existence by being pounded into minute particles or grains.  Similarly, the shingle beach which consists entirely of pebbles, is also transient, for it is constantly being moved along the shore by the action of waves….

Secondly, the shingle beach is fairly shallow. It lies on a base far more permanent than itself, usually a shelf or platform of solid rock.  The sea cut out, or wore down, this platform when, long ago, it eroded the land on which the beach now stands: the resulting debris then formed the bed of shingle. The sea continued its attack upon the retreating cliffs, from which additional layers of debris came and still ceaselessly come.”

Through mindful attention to the stones and wood, Pierre Jardin is not only adrift in time–he likes to think of this kind of contemplative practice as a drift in time, a phrase he coined in the spirit of Madeleine L’Engle‘s Wrinkle in Time–a drift in time would be a meta-physical breach, a temporal opening, in which different timescales can be accessed and occupied.  In this particular time-drift, Pierre’s fleeting encounter with a driftwood log and rhyolite pebbles became a slow time exercise, a focused dilation of duration, through which he could drift with the log’s drifting journey, and linger with the pebbles in their “transient” journey in deep time, as they erode from stone into sand.

Of course, a drift in time only lasts for as long as one is able to sustain it.  In this case, Pierre Jardin was fortunate to have finished photographing the work just as a museum docent called down to him, “I am glad I found you–I am about to lock the gate to the parking lot–you have to come up immediately!”